The Music of Disney

Today, November 25th, is a very important day. It’s the release of the soundtrack for Disney’s newest animated movie Frozen! “Do You Want To Build A Snowman”, “For The First Time In Forever”, “Let It Go”, and “Love Is An Open Door” are great songs that all deserve a place in the classic Disney repertoire. In the midst of all the Frozen excitement, I can’t help but reminisce about some of my favorite Disney songs. There are the obvious songs, the one that everyone has memorized—“A Whole New World”, “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”, “Part Of Your World”, etc. Many of my favorite songs, however, are often overlooked because they aren’t the “anthem” song of the movie, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as beautiful, fun, and insightful. So, in honor of a new collection of songs joining my Disney playlist today, here are five under-appreciated Disney songs.

1. The Mob Song – Howard Ashman and Alan Menken from Beauty and the Beast

Image

There has never been (and I’m convinced there never will be again) a songwriter like Howard Ashman. His lyrics are poetry and convey some of the deepest themes in Disney movies. Gaston sings “The Mob Song” with the townspeople as they march off to attack Beast’s castle. “We don’t like what we don’t understand/ in fact it scares us/ and this monster is mysterious at least”, “Raise the flag!/ Sing the song!/ Here we come, we’re fifty strong/ and fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong/ Let’s kill the Beast!”. The villagers are afraid of the Beast because he’s different and Gaston preys on that fear to make the villagers do something terrible and violent. How many times do we let the fear of something different convince us to do something wrong or unkind?

2. Savages – Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken from Pocahontas

savages

“Savages” is sung by both the Native Americans and the English as they prepare to fight each other in battle the next day. The parallels in this song are brilliant. The lyrics for the English and the Indians are very similar, and sometimes even the exact same: “They’re savages! Savages!/ Barely even human/ Savages! Savages!”. There is hate and misunderstanding on both sides. Rather than villainize one party, Stephen Schwartz shows us how we can all fall prey to prejudice and judgment. But through her courage Pocahontas reminds us that we can overcome our differences with love and understanding.

3. Hellfire – Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Image“Hellfire” is one of Disney’s darkest songs, which Frollo (Tony Jay) sings about his lust for Esmeralda as a desperate plea to the Holy Virgin Mary. “You know I’m so much purer than/ the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd/ Then tell me, Maria/ why I see her dancing there/ Why her smoldering eyes still scorch my soul/ I feel her/ I see her/ the sun caught in her raven hair/ is blazing in me out of all control/ like fire/ hellfire/ this fire in my skin/ this burning desire/ is turning me to sin”. In his pride Frollo believed himself to be above the common people, but no one is free of sin. A bonus gem to this song is the Latin incantation the supplements Frollo’s lyrics. Go look up the translation. Once you know what the chorus is saying, it adds that much more to the song.

4. One Jump (Reprise) – Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, and Tim Rice from Aladdin

Image

Aladdin (Brad Kane) sings this song after escaping from the guards and they call him a street rat repeatedly. In this very short song, Aladdin reminds the audience that he is so much more than just a street rat, if only someone would take the time to get to know him. Whether a ferocious looking Beast with a gentle heart, a group of people who look different than us, a pious-looking minister with a sinister heart, or a street rat with a kind and generous disposition, we never really understand anyone until we get to know them deeper.

5. Vanessa’s Song – Howard Ashman and Alan Menken

vanessaThis song is so under-appreciated that it isn’t even counted as a real song. I call it Vanessa’s Song because it’s the tidbit Ursula sings while disguised as Vanessa using Ariel’s voice. It is wickedly fun and teasingly short: “What a lovely bride I’ll make/ my dear I’ll look divine/ things are working out according to my ultimate design/ soon I’ll have that little mermaid/ and the ocean will be mine!”. Jodi Benson (Ariel) does such an amazing job with these three sung lines! I wish it was a full song. Jodi Benson would make an awesome villain, just saying.

Notice a theme in all these songs? Outward impressions of people are often incorrect. We can’t judge or understand someone without taking the time to get to know them. Sometimes, like Aladdin, they are so much more than they appear. Other times, like Vanessa, they are not what they seem. For better or for worse, there is always more to people than a first impression, which I believe will also be a theme in Frozen, which comes out this Wednesday! Go see it and let me and Emily know what you think!

Image

Advertisements

Rose Under Fire

Image

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein is an author, historian, and a pilot, three things that inspired her to write her successful World War II novel Code Name Verity. Her second World War II story, Rose Under Fire, is a stand-alone novel with ties back to Code Name Verity. Both stories are about female ATA pilots based in England during World War II. Rose Under Fire centers around American pilot Rose Justice, a girl who dreams of serving on the European stage and an amateur poet. As the Allies push the Nazis back from France, Rose gets her chance to serve on the active front, flying planes and passengers around France. After unpredicted circumstances in one of her missions, however, Rose finds herself in Germany where German soldiers force her to land. From there Rose is taken to Ravensbruck, the notorious women’s concentration camp, where she meets a diverse group of women with three things in common—courage, determination, and compassion.

ImageWein’s first World War II book, Code Name Verity, is a deeply moving story about the power of friendship between two young women during the war. While Rose Under Fire does not center around one friendship, Wein still weaves a tale of loyalty, kindness, and strength between the women at Ravensbruck. At the concentration camp, Rose meets several women who work together to survive the horrors of Nazi philosophy. First she meets, Elodie, a French prisoner whose kindness and small rebellions give Rose the will to survive her first few weeks in the concentration camp. After the guards move Rose to another part of the camp, she meets a group of women who have already banded together. There is Lisette, the mother figure of the cell block who takes care of the younger girls. Roza and Karolina are both “rabbits”, humans that the Nazi doctors experimented on, leaving most of their test subjects permanently damaged and crippled. Also in this cabin is Irina, a Soviet pilot, or “night witch” as the Nazis call her. One of the other interesting characters of the novel is one of the female guards at the camp, a German who has been both a guard and a prisoner at the camp.

Image

Prisoners working at Ravensbruck.

The book is not a light read. Basing her fictional account on the stories of real survivors, Wein offers a look into the horrors of the Nazi regime and the tragedies that occurred in the concentration camps. The women are whipped and assigned numbers rather than names. Doctors intentionally give girls gangrene in order to simulate war wounds and develop cures. Many of the girls are gassed. Through ingenuity and bravery, Rose manages to help save some of the girls slated for execution, and she eventually manages to escape with Irina and Roza. Even after she is free, though, Rose suffers physically, mentally, and emotionally from her time at Ravensbruck, as do the other girls.

ImageRose Under Fire is a grim reminder of the atrocities that occurred during World War II. But it is also a tale of triumph—the triumph of friendship and the human spirit. Though I found Rose Under Fire a less compelling story than Code Name Verity—but honestly, Code Name Verity is as compelling as it gets—it is still a moving book, and definitely one worth reading. Wein’s research is well done, and she weaves the facts into her fictional account in a seamless way. Rose Under Fire is not an easy read, but through the suffering of the characters, Wein offers a story of courage. Not only do Rose and other women from Ravensbruck survive, but they work together to let the world know their stories, and the stories of those who did not survive the cruelty of the concentration camp.

For anyone who enjoyed Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is a must read. Partly because it is a well written book, and partly because readers can see a little bit of Maddie and Jamie after the end of Code Name Verity. But for all World War II enthusiasts and lovers of historical fiction, this is a novel for you. Rose Under Fire is a tale of tragedy, but more importantly, it is a story of hope.

Code Name Verity

3992wein_code_name_verity-1

Elizabeth Wein’s book focuses on the love found between friends.

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves Lewis examines the four types of love in society—affection (as in between family members), romance, unconditional love, and friendship. Most books, especially the books that have come out for young adults in the past decade, focus on the romantic type of love. Lewis writes that, “to the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it”. One book that came out in 2012, however, not only centers on a friendship, but celebrates friendship. Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor-winning Code Name Verity is a spectacular book for many reasons, but what really makes it stand out is the way that it values and illuminates the love that abounds in a true friendship. For, as one of the characters says, “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

51PR5E6NCDL

Code Name Verity won the Printz Honor Award in 2013 and was also shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

Code Name Verity tells the story of a female spy working for the Allies whose plane is shot down over Germany. She is arrested by the Gestapo, and knows that her chances of survival are very, very slim as an agent captured in enemy territory. The Gestapo officers who run the prison where she is taken give this girl spy, known as Queenie and Verity, a choice—she can tell them everything she knows about the Allies, or she can face execution. Queenie agrees to reveal what she knows, but it comes in a very unorthodox fashion. Queenie begins writing a story. She writes the story of her friendship with a female pilot named Maddie, the pilot who was flying her plane over Germany. Queenie’s friendship with Maddie is deep and powerful, a story of love and adventure.

And… that is all I am going to tell you. Because Code Name Verity is one of the books that you should know absolutely nothing about if you want to enjoy all of the twists and turns to the fullest. Elizabeth Wein’s novel is brilliant—it is beautifully written and superbly crafted. It is also a book written by an author who is committed to thorough research. Code Name Verity is a fascinating look at the bravery of many women during World War II in the Women’s Auxilliary Air Force in Britain. Anyone who loves historical novels will love this story. But this is also a story for anyone who has had a best friend. This is the story of two girls who laugh together, cry together, stay up at night telling each other secrets, and would do anything for each other. This is a book that every girl should read, as it is a look at how pure and beautiful a friendship can be. Each of the four loves that C.S. Lewis discusses are important. But in young adult literature friendship is often overlooked in favor of romance. Code Name Verity reminds us of the power of friendship, and that sometimes friendship can be the most important thing of all.

Ender’s War

Warning: Spoilers. But I don’t feel bad about it because if you’ve read the book then you already know what happens. And if you haven’t read the book, why are you reading a review of the movie? Go read the book!

ImageWith all the present hype over books like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent it can be easy to forget one small book from 1985. Ender’s Game, originally published as a short story in 1977, is one of the first and most significant science fiction books for young adults. The story takes place in Earth’s future, after attacks from an insect alien species. In order to protect Earth from further attacks, the leaders of the International Fleet (IF) select the best and the brightest children to participate in training and competitions. One of these children is Ender Wiggin.

Ender enters ‘Battle School’ at a very young age, but his strategic genius becomes quickly apparent. However, as the third child in his family in a country with a two-child policy, Ender faces isolation and abuse from other students. His talent and success also alienates him and makes him enemies. In one instance, a bully corners him and Ender fights back. He injures the boy badly, inflicting a wound that proves fatal. Ender tells IF leader Colonel Graff that he beat the boy excessively in order to prevent any future attack. This kind of strategic answer prompts Graff to move Ender up to a higher level. In this new program, Ender commands a company of misfits that he turns into the top company in the program.

Image

Ender commanding a simulation.

After this, IF moves Ender to ‘Command School’, where he and several of his company members participate in simulated skirmishes against the aliens. Eventually, Ender comes to the final test. He succeeds, destroying the pretend alien planet only to discover that it wasn’t pretend. The ‘simulations’ were real, and Ender has actually destroyed the alien planet and effectively won the war. Now Ender feels the weight of his actions, guilt ridden and depressed over destroying a species, especially after he realizes that they were sentient creatures able to communicate telepathically. Ender, however, is offered a chance of redemption. He finds the eggs of a queen of the insect alien species and decides to find a safe planet for the species to repopulate.

Without changing anything significant, the movie captures the essence of the book. One of the best aspects of the story that the movie portrays is Ender, in both his empathy and viciousness. In the book, Ender is presented as a contrast between his violent brother and his compassionate sister, a contrast that the movie balances well. Much of this is due to the impressive acting of the then fifteen-year-old Asa Butterfield. Butterfield portrays Ender’s violent side but also stirs his audience’s emotions with his empathetic side. Much of best acting is in the subtle mannerisms he uses to show Ender’s strategic mind and internal struggle between violence and peace. Ender also represents a classic child character, one beset by bullies, isolation, and self-identity issues who manages to rise above his challenges to create a successful team out of misfits, make friends, and ultimately become the commander of the IF military forces.

Image

Another spectacular aspect of the film is the visuals. The Battle School is located in space, and the battle practice simulations take place in zero gravity. These battle competitions are fun to watch, and the uniforms, space environment, and technology give the film a real sci fi feel that fans of the book will enjoy. The stunning visuals, however, do not detract from the story. Harrison Ford and Viola Davis give excellent performances. The young actors who play Ender’s friends and sub-commanders also do a good job with their roles. And at the heart of the film is a deep and meaningful story about grand themes like war and peace, but also the story of a boy struggling to find his true purpose.

Readers can rest assured that the movie Ender’s Game is a rather faithful adaptation of the book. Orson Card, the author, was involved in the filmmaking process, and Gavin Hood (the director and writer) did an excellent job with the screenplay. Some things were cut, including much of the storyline of Ender’s brother Peter and his sister Valentine, but everything essential to the story and Ender’s character development remains. The movie characterizes Ender extraordinarily well, and does a good job handling the tension of the war and Ender’s internal struggle. This is definitely one of the better book-to-movie adaptations I have seen in a while, and it is also a good movie. People who love the book and people who have never read it will enjoy this film.

Image

Hailee Steinfield and Asa Butterfield at ‘Battle School’.

Ender’s Game

enders_game_ver20_xlg

Before seeing the new movie Ender’s Game, you should check out the source material.

The first time that I stayed up all night was when I read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. My 7th grade English teacher assigned the book to our class, and I started reading it on the bus ride home. And then it stayed in my hands until I finished it around dawn the next morning. Published in 1985, Ender’s Game won the 1985 Nebula Award for best novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for best novel. Like me, it seems, there were many people who were unable to put this book down. Before there was The Hunger Games, before Divergent, there was Ender’s Game, a piece of genre fiction that showed just how good and powerful science fiction can be. Ender’s Game is important to the development of young adult literature because it shows how deep themes and complex characters can be conveyed through a genre that is often overlooked.

The story takes place in the future, after alien invaders known as “Buggers” have attacked earth twice. The people of earth have fought them off, but suffered devastating losses in the process. In order to ensure that they will be ready when the Buggers attack again, the governments of earth formed an International Fleet and a Battle School in space in order to train children to be the military leaders who will one day lead the battles against the Buggers. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is one of the children at the Battle School. Ender is a genius and already showed a flare for battle tactics before he joined the Battle School. Ender and the other children learn and master many games that will help prepare them for their imminent battle against the Buggers. But Ender also learns that he needs tactics and strategy to survive the fiercely competitive atmosphere and to navigate through a competitive world of kids who all want to be number one.

The summary above merely scratches the surface of story and sub-plots in Ender’s Game, but I will leave it at that because spoiling the end of the book would be criminal. Ender’s Game is a somewhat controversial read because of the violence in the text. In the incredibly competitive nature of the Battle School, brutal fights break out between the young children and there are serious injuries. The violence may trouble some and make others squirm, but it reveals the darkness inherent even in characters who are good.

9780812550702_custom-14b6b3e2b8be027acc868fa0aba0670be8900168-s6-c30

Ender’s Game is a novel that proved that genre fiction could also be serious literature.

Ender’s Game has stood the test of time, as it is still popular today and was recently adapted into a movie. It is still a compelling story decades after it was published because the book connects with many young adult readers. Ender’s Game has enduring popularity for a few reasons:

  • The setting. Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel that takes itself seriously—the plot is tight and the prose is both deft and lyrical. The book also brings up questions of morality through the context of a world under imminent threat. The novel explores whether or not the end truly justifies the means, and whether or not a person can be good even after doing bad things. It is also a vividly imagined and described look at a futuristic earth and society that parallels the paranoia that surrounded the Cold War era in which the book was written. The Battle School has rules and regulations, and Card’s world building immerses the reader in the story and in Ender’s world.
  • The games. Ender and his fellow recruits play many different simulations that help prepare them for battle using strategy and tactics. The way that these games are described will blow your mind. The United States Marine Corps actually reads the book in order to think about battle tactics in out of the box ways. The Hunger Games and Divergent also deal with competitions and games that pit young adults and children against each other. Ender’s Game, as a good and popular science fiction novel, helped pave the way for the science fiction and dystopian books that are popular today.

    enders-shadow

    If you love Ender’s Game you should also read Ender’s Shadow, a companion novel told from Bean’s point of view.

  • The characters. Young adult readers have connected with the book since its publication for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is the book’s characters. Ender and his friends are intelligent beyond their years, and they face many of the frustrations that intelligent teens face as well. Adults talk down to them and hide information from them. But the characters are in fact very young, and are thrust into a cold world and some adult situations, which brings into conflict their actions and their chronological age, bringing up moral questions. There is also tension between intelligence and maturity is something that many young adults struggle with, especially early in their teens, as all of these children are incredibly intelligent but are not always wise. And it is why teens will keep reading Ender’s Game—it doesn’t talk down to them, it meets them where they are.
  • Ender is also a character with whom readers can easily relate. He is a genius, but he is also very young and suffers from homesickness, struggles with his self-identity, and how to navigate social situations. Ender struggles with these things a lot in the novel, but learns how these struggles can make him a stronger person. Ender’s moral struggle—between the violent and peaceful sides of his personality—is also the moral epicenter of the novel, as he embodies what his society is struggling with as well.

Ender’s Game is a seminal work of young adult literature, as it shows that genre fiction can also be serious and meaningful, that a story can be both entertaining and make readers think through serious moral issues. And I’m sure that it will keep many readers up all night in the future.